Mary at WitsOn 22 March, Mary Rayner and Thato Masiangoako represented SERI at a workshop hosted by the Security at the Margins (SeaM) project at the University of the Witwatersrand. The purpose of the workshop was to explore how organisations use data in their pursuit of police accountability with a focus on groups typically marginalised, discriminated against and/or criminalised, including sex and other informal sector workers, drug users, LBGTQ+ people, and protestors. Inputs were also made by the African Centre for Migration and Society; the Foundation for Human RightsXenowatchUrban Futures Centre, and Abahlali baseMjondolo

Dr Mary Rayner presented some of the main findings from a report titled, A Double Harm: Police Misuse of Force and Barriers to Necessary Health Care Services, which documents the disproportionate and illegal use of force by the police during student protests. Dr Rayner’s presentation highlighted various ways in which the police acted unlawfully during the 2015/2016 #feesmustfall student protests and how efforts to seek accountability have so far yielded no results. Key findings in the report included that: 

  • Police’s forced dispersal of peaceful protests were illegal.
  • Police use of force during the protests violated the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.
  • The police acted as a result of misinformation and incorrect instructions calling into question the operational independence of the police during the protests.

Recurring themes emerged during the workshop, including the ways in which communities perceive and hold the police accountable, and the impact of criminalisation of certain acts and practices in dealing with vulnerable groups. While decriminalisation is not a panacea, criminalising and penalising further victimises and marginalises people who could be dealt with in more just and productive ways.